One day (in February 2012) I was talking with Rev. Damson, my interpreter for the ministry classes, about his background and learned that he grew up on Ukerewe Island on Lake Victoria. This is a large island, roughly 15 miles by 40 miles in size, located three hours by ferry from Mwanza. After hearing that his parents still resided there, I suggested we go visit them that weekend for something interesting to do. My motivation had nothing to do with anything spiritual, but with the thought of how exotic it sounded to be visiting an African island out on the lake. Damson made some phone calls for us, and yes, it would work out well. Great! How exciting!
We left around lunchtime on that Friday after watching the boat being loaded up with many different items such as bananas, mattresses, laundry soap, kerosene, rice, and dried cassava root. It was a sunny day with a slight breeze as we slowly made our way up the lake. It intrigued me to see fishermen in canoes or tiny sailboats several miles off shore searching for fish to sell at the markets. I could only imagine the labor it took to paddle out and back each day in order to make a living. There were the usual hawkers walking around the boat trying to interest us in peanuts, sweet snacks, bread, bananas, watches, clocks, belts, hats, flashlights, and how-to-learn English books. After docking at the main town of Nansio, we made our way to Damson’s folks, who lived in an unassuming home on the edge of town.
This was one of those times when I really wished I could speak Swahili fluently. They were my kind of people: friendly, down to earth, simple country folk, with a life time of Godly living behind them. They had started a church in their living room many years before, and helped grow it into a thriving congregation. Damson’s father is retired from active ministry, but his parents still walk down the street each Sunday to the church they helped build with their own hands. Needless to say, I was well cared for as if I was one of the family. I was told by someone in Mwanza that Damson comes from one of the best families in the region, widely known for their integrity and high character.
That night I was tired and went to bed before the others. Around 11PM I awoke to the sound of soft singing filtering through the rough wooden door of my bedroom. It was one of those few ethereal moments of my life when I felt transported into another realm. Damson’s mother was leading their family in a traditional style antiphonal song being repeated over and over. My spirit was calmed as I lay listening to the soothing sounds wash over me; on and on they went, timeless and ancient. Finally, I went out into the living room to find Damson, his parents, and his sister sitting by candle light, praising God for His goodness. They had been worshipping Him for about two hours.
Suddenly, at midnight it all changed! The singing gave way to loud cries and fervent prayers, calling on God for His mercy and aid. Spiritual warfare was being done to combat the forces of darkness that seek to hinder the Kingdom of God! Of course, I couldn’t understand what was being prayed, but that didn’t stop me from joining in the Spirit. I was reminded of some home prayer meetings I had been to as a young child. We prayed intensely for about 45 minutes before slowly settling down; then it was off to bed to fall asleep to the sounds of the night frogs and crickets.
The next day I asked Damson’s mother some questions about prayer and she explained several principles to me. First of all, they had been doing this for years as a way to seek God’s help and to do spiritual warfare. This particular night they had been praying for Damson’s ministry and church. She told me that prayer is more effective if we first take time to worship God, if we pray against the evil spirits at night (when they are more active); and when we are willing to sacrifice something in order to spend time in prayer. In this case they were sacrificing some sleep.
God has His people everywhere, even on an island out on Lake Victoria in East Africa, serving Him and the Church with faithfulness and love. I am grateful for the visit I had with them. Besides having an interesting tour of the island, I learned some valuable lessons.
May the peace of Christ be with you,
Loading up the front of the ferry.
Approaching Ukerewe Island
Riding through Nansio on bicycles
To the home of Rev. Damson's parents
My gracious hosts - Bethseba and Thomas
Biking several kilometers out of town
To the family's portion of a communal rice farm.
The church Damson's family started.